Teacher quality

What qualities of university teachers positively influence learning outcome of students has been a research topic since long (e.g. Palmer, 1908). This research presents several lists of qualities of teachers. An  example of such listing is the following six-fold taxonomy reported by Cohen (1981):

  • Skill: the instructor’s overall pedagogical adroitness.
  • Rapport: the instructor’s empathy, accessibility and friendliness to students.
  • Structure: the extent to which the course is well planned and organised.
  • Difficulty: the amount and difficulty of work expected of students in a course.
  • Interaction: the extent to which students are encouraged to become actively engaged in class sessions.
  • Feedback: the extent to which the instructor provides feedback on the quality of a student’s work.

Later research came to the same type of lists (e.g. Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Pascarella & Tenzini, 1991; Ramsden e.a., 1995; Ellington, 2000). Prosser and Trigwell (1999) have suggested that the focus of good teaching practice should be the students, not the teacher. They thus promote a student-centered learning approach (McLean e.a., 2008).

Meta-analyses show that teacher quality is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. (Hattie, 2003, 2009, 2012, Marzano, 1998). These meta-analyses were not directly aimed at university teaching, but their findings are useful for university teaching too. Petty (2006) combined the findings of these meta-analyses into three main qualities:

  • Expert teachers set challenging goals
  • Expert teacher had very deep understanding of teaching and learning
  • Expert teachers monitor learning and provide feedback

Ken Bain (2004) studied not only the behaviors of a number of best university teachers, but also how they think and how they began to conceptualize their teaching practice. His descriptions fit very well to the outcome of the meta-studies mentioned above. Among other, he reported the following observations:   

  • Outstanding teachers know their subjects extremely well. They are all active and accomplished scholars, artists, or scientists.
  • Exceptional teachers treat their lectures, discussion sections, problem-bases sessions, and other elements of teaching as serious intellectual endeavors as intellectually demanding and important as their research and scholarship.
  • The best teachers expect ‘more’ of their students. They favor objectives that embody the kind of thinking and acting expected for life.
  • While methods vary, the best teachers often try to create what we have come to call a ‘natural critical learning environment’. In that environment, people learn by confronting intriguing, beautiful, or important problems, authentic tasks that will challenge them to grapple with ideas, rethink their assumptions, and examine their mental models of reality.
  • Highly effective teachers tend to reflect a strong trust in students. They usually believe that students will learn, and they assume, until proven otherwise, that they can.
  • All the teachers that have been studied, have some systematic program- some more elaborate than others – to assess their own efforts and to make appropriate changes. The assessment of students flows from primary learning objectives.

Based upon the findings of this type of research, academic organizations in many countries have compiled sets of competences for university teaching staff. One example is the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF), which is a nationally-recognised framework for benchmarking success within HE teaching and learning support (HEA, 2011).  Other examples are compiled by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (200), the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (2003), and the American Association for Higher Education, 1998).



American Association for Higher Education (1998). Powerful partnerships: A shared responsibility for learning. Final Report of the Joint Task Force on Student Learning. [Web Page]. URL: http://www.myacpa.org/sites/default/files/taskforce_powerful_partnerships_a_shared_responsibility_for_learning.pdf. [Retrieved: 25 July 2016]

Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education., Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education.

Cohen, P.A. (1981). Student ratings of instruction and student achievement: a meta-analysis of multisection validity studies. Review of Educational Research, 51, 281-309.

Ellington, H. (2000). How to become an excellent tertiary-level teacher: Seven golden rules for university and college lecturers. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 24(3), 311-321.

HEA. (2011). UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF). [Web Page]. URL: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/ukpsf_2011_english.pdf. [Retrieved: 25 July 2016]

McLean, M., Cilliers, F. & Van Wyk, J.M. (2008). Faculty development: Yesterday, today and tomorrow, Medical Teacher, 30(6), 555-584, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01421590802109834. [Retrieved: 25 July 2016]

Hattie, J. (2003, October). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented at the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference on Building Teacher Quality, Melbourne.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. Maximizing impact on learning. London: Routledge.

Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (2003), Challenging Conceptions of Teaching: Some prompts for good practice [Web Page]. URL: https://www.jcu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/104482/jcu_121463.pdf [Retrieved: 25 July 2016]

Marzano, R.J. (1998). A Theory-Based Meta-Analysis of Research on Instruction. Aurora, Colorado: Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory. 

National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. (2000). Indicators of "good practice” in undergraduate education: A handbook for development and practice. Boulder, Colorado: NCHEMS.

Palmer, G.H. (1908). The ideal teacher. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How college affects students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Petty (2006). Evidence Based Teaching: A Practical Approach. Cheltenham, UK: Nelson Thornes.

Prosser, M., & Trigwell, K. (1999). Learning and teaching: The experience in higher education. Buckingham, UK: SRHE & Open University Press.

Ramsden, P., Margetson, D., Martin, E., & Clarke, S. (1995). Recognising and rewarding good teaching. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.